When it was announced in 2005 that the powerful Harrah's group was set to take over Caesars Palace, many Vegas observers feared that the chain would denude the place of all its sass and turn it into Just Another Strip Resort. It hasn't happened yet. While the Bellagio is perhaps the epitome of new Vegas luxury, Caesars remains an icon of classic Sin City decadence, a meld of affluence, kitsch and glamour that continues to be a compelling sight more than four decades after its 1966 opening.
The resort remains a monument of sorts to ancient Greece and Rome, with miles of gold decor, marble columns, arches and colonnades, manicured gardens and copies of Greek and Roman statuary. These days, though, it's more about elegance than the kind of camp instilled in it by legendary founder Jay Sarno, at least in theory.
It's an enormous place, spread over a bewildering, labyrinthine casino floor and up into a variety of different towers. It's only getting bigger too. An additional tower is planned for the not too distant future, bringing the total room count to almost 4,500. But the existing towers have been kept in good shape by a recent renovation, dragging the design of the rooms into the 21st century.
Key to Caesars' continuing allure is the 4.5-acre Garden of the Gods pool area, a San Simeon-like peach with four mosaic pools, marble statuary, fountains and mini-throne lifeguard stands. A section of it, by the Venus pool, is set aside for topless sunbathing. While the pool draws a crowd only in summer, the ever-expanding Forum Shops pulls visitors year-round. Fashioned, in true Vegas style, after an ancient Roman streetscape, the mall contains an unmatched range of shops, many of them not found anywhere else in the city. Other selling points include the luxurious Qua Baths & Spa and the Venus salon; guests also get access to Cascata, the resort's golf course in Boulder City.
You'd expect a certain level of variety in a hotel this huge, and so it proves. The standard rooms (billed as 'Classic') are expansive and well maintained, but they aren't decorated in an especially inspiring fashion. If you've got a little cash, it's worth splashing for the 'Deluxe' rooms in the Augustus and Palace Towers, recently upgraded with high-tech facilities and stylishly modern design. The suites are fancier still: some have circular beds, in-room saunas, wet bars, living/dining rooms, home theatres, wine grottos, and even steam and workout rooms.
Eating & drinking
Top of the tree are Bradley Ogden's chic regional American eaterie, high-end French spot Restaurant Guy Savoy, and 808, Jean-Marie Josselin's Euro-Asian-Pacific Rim restaurant. The Vegas edition of Bobby Flay's Manhattan-based, Southwestern-slanted hotspot Mesa Grill looks great but promises more than it delivers; you're better off visiting Rao's, another New York import. Other options include the Japanese-oriented Hyakumi; for upscale Chinese; Café Lago, the prettiest coffeeshop on the Strip; and the 24-hour Augustus Café.
There are also a number of excellent eateries in the Forum Shops, among them Florida's Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab, Santa Monica's Boa Prime Grill and Manhattan's ridiculously pricey Il Mulino. Alternatives include Sushi Roku, straightforward Italian eaterie Trevi, and two Wolfgang Puck spots, Asian restaurant Chinois and trend-setting Spago. For casual fare, try Stage Deli, where portions and prices are both huge.
Celine Dion's five-year run in the purpose-built, 4,100-seat Colosseum comes to an end in December 2007; from February 2008, she'll be replaced by Bette Midler. Pure should be here through the end of 2008, performing his greatest hits-packed Red Piano show 50 times a year; other semi-regular headliners include comic Jerry Seinfeld.
The most notable nightlife option, and one of the most fashionable in the entire city, is the perpetually celeb-packed Shadow Bar, a South Beachian spot part-owned by Dion, Shaquille O'Neal, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf; included in it is the burlesque-oriented Pussycat Dolls Lounge, which does pretty much what you might expect. The offers flair bartenders and silhouetted beauties bumping and grinding behind backlit scrims; for old-time Caesars Palace kitsch, there's the enduring Cleopatra's Barge. Also on site are the Seahorse Lounge, serving high-end cocktails in a room dominated by a giant aquarium, and the 24-hour Galleria Bar. And in the Forum Shops, there's OPM.
Few casinos offer the limits or the atmosphere of Caesars; when there's a big fight in town, limits on the main floor can go through the roof. The sports book is one of the liveliest spots to watch the action, and accepts some of the biggest bets. You get a good view of the baccarat pit, an intimate nook where huge wagers are common. And for the boldest of slot players, the $500 machine, with a $1 million jackpot, uses gold-plated tokens. (Caveat: it pays a winning spin of only two $500 coins; for every other payback, the machine locks and an attendant hand-pays, for tax-paperwork purposes.) The high-limit slots are in the Palace Casino near the main entrance; blackjack pits and slots in the Forum Casino offer slightly lower limits. There's also a Pussycat Dolls themed area.